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How a Compression Sleeve Could Help Your Sore or Swollen Knee

If you have pain or swelling in your knee, or if you want to avoid these issues, you might be wondering if a compression knee sleeve might help. These sleeves come in different styles and can help stabilize your knee joint. 

They aren’t the same thing as knee braces—knee braces limit the motion in your knee and are usually used when you’re recovering from a more serious injury. Compression sleeves add support, help protect the knee and can help relieve pain associated with minor knee problems.

Christopher Bruscato, a sports physical therapist and athletic trainer with Banner Health, said before you try a knee sleeve, you should talk to your doctor about why you think you need one, especially if you’re dealing with an injury. 

“If you’re injured, wearing a knee sleeve is only one small part of your recovery. It is important to have a doctor diagnose your knee injury and, if needed, to work with a physical therapist to restore your range of motion, balance and strength so you resolve your issue long-term,” he said.

Bruscato provided some details about why you might want to use compression knee sleeves and what you should consider before you buy one. 

Why do people use compression knee sleeves?

These sleeves compress the area around your knee, which increases blood flow. This can decrease pain, reduce inflammation and improve proprioception, or your awareness of where your body is and how it is moving. One of the benefits of knee sleeves is that they can help keep fluid from building up around the knee, so they can reduce swelling. 

“Inflammation is a normal response to injury, but it can be a concern if it persists,” Bruscato said. “Excessive swelling may cause pain, limit your knee’s range of motion and weaken the quadriceps muscle.”

Who can benefit from a compression sleeve?

People often use these sleeves for additional knee support for running, weightlifting, doing squats and other activities. People in physically demanding jobs may also want them. And they may also be suitable for some people who have arthritis. 

Are there times when you should avoid compression knee sleeves?

You should talk to your doctor before using a sleeve, since without diagnosing your injury, a compression sleeve may make it worse. If you have a wound or you’re recovering from knee surgery, make sure your doctor says it’s safe to use a sleeve.

If you use a sleeve, you should only wear it when you’re exercising or doing something where you need additional support and stability. They aren’t designed to be worn all day.

How do you choose a knee sleeve?

Different types of knee sleeves have different features. Some support the whole knee area, and others are designed to support the kneecap. Depending on your knee condition, preferences and activity level, you might want a high quality sleeve that is:

  • Breathable, which can help reduce odors
  • Lightweight, so it fits under clothing
  • Easy to put on and off
  • Better for sensitive skin 9to prevent irritation)
  • Adjustable
  • Designed not to slip
  • Stretchable in different directions
  • Durable
  • Inexpensive
  • Moisture wicking

To find the right fit when you buy a sleeve, you’ll usually measure around the circumference around the top of your calf, close to your knee, with your knee slightly bent. But check the manufacturer’s recommendations and size chart. Some want you to measure right around the kneecap, and others ask for the measurement a few inches above your kneecap. If you’re close to two different sizes, keep in mind that you want a sleeve has a tight fit but doesn’t restrict your knee movement.

What else can I do for pain relief and to reduce swelling?

A compression knee sleeve isn’t your only option. Cycling can keep you moving without putting as much strain on your knee as running or other high-impact activities do.

You can also try these exercises to help improve circulation and reduce swelling if your doctor says it’s OK:

  • Ankle pumps. Sit or lay with your feet straight out in front of you and alternate between pointing your toes toward you and away from you without stopping for two to three minutes.
  • Heel slides. Lay on the floor or a firm bed. Bend one knee, keeping your foot on the floor, and have the other leg out straight. Slowly bend the knee in your straight leg, sliding your heel along the floor toward your knee as far as you can. Then slide your heel back out until your leg is straight. Repeat eight to 12 times on each side.

The bottom line

If you have knee pain or swelling, you might want to consider a compression knee sleeve, which can help reduce inflammation and discomfort. But before you buy one, talk to your doctor to figure out what might be causing your knee problems. You don’t want to start using a sleeve and discover it’s making your condition worse. 

Need help diagnosing and treating knee pain?

Schedule an appointment with a primary care provider near you.

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